Colts, Manning ready to face new barrage of playoff questions Print
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Thursday, 03 January 2008 01:37
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 INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Peyton Manning will gladly trade in those worn out playoff questions for some new ones.
For the first time in his pro career, Manning will enter the postseason without hearing the comparisons to Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Dan Marino, Dan Fouts and Fran Tarkenton, who never won a Super Bowl.
Instead, the Pro Bowl quarterback is preparing for a new twist as the playoff interrogation begins: Can he lead the Colts to back-to-back Super Bowl titles?
``I think this year has been uncharted territory for most of us,'' Manning said Wednesday. ``I think we've broken through some of the stereotypes of what you can and can't do after winning it.''
Conventional wisdom suggests Super Bowl winners are ripe for a letdown.
Manning, however, orchestrated one of the finest title defenses in decades.
Indy (13-3) opened a third straight season with no losses in September or October, won a fifth straight AFC South title, earned a first-round bye and continued winning despite a rash of injuries that might have derailed any other team. The three losses came by a total of 11 points, and if the Colts' starters played the entire game Sunday night, there's a good chance they would have become the third team since 1991 to win 14 after winning a championship.
While Manning was his usual efficient self, throwing 31 touchdowns, surpassing 4,000 yards for a record eighth time and finishing with a rating of 98.0, his season was more impressive because of what he dealt with.
Manning lost his Pro Bowl left tackle to retirement before training camp. He lost his rookie left tackle for five games in the middle of the season. He lost his perennial Pro Bowl receiver, Marvin Harrison (left knee), for 11 games, and yet continued to produce wins.
But as the playoffs start, Manning's season will again be defined by only one thing: a championship.
``I think that is accurate,'' coach Tony Dungy said. ``Quarterbacks have the ball so much and make so much happen that if you throw a pass and you miss, it could cost you and that's what everyone looks at. It just comes back to doing the things you do all year and if you do that, then you become Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw.''
This year's postseason quarterback class contains some of the game's biggest names.
Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have already won Super Bowls. Two more, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and Tennessee backup Kerry Collins, have started Super Bowls. Tennessee's Vince Young also won a national championship in college.
But to reach the elite of the elite, it requires more than one Super Bowl win.
How tough is it?
Consider that only nine quarterbacks have won multiple Super Bowls, and only Bradshaw (four), Brady, Montana and Troy Aikman (three each) have won more than two. The list drops to seven when looking for repeat winners, and Bradshaw is the only quarterback to do it twice.
Players like Favre, Ken Stabler, Steve Young, Len Dawson and Joe Namath won only one.
But for Manning, who spent the first decade of his career setting new quarterback standards, breaking records and ascending to the top of his profession, it's the next few games that could turn him from Super Bowl winner into NFL legend.
Or it could restart some of those same old questions as he found out last February. Less than 12 hours after Manning's greatest professional accomplishment, the debate had already begun about whether he needed a second title to validate his success.
To Manning, it's pure folly.
``You hope you're ready for the playoffs,'' Manning said.
Since the Colts' held their ring ceremony in June, the team did everything it could to put last year's Super Bowl behind.
Dungy avoided talking about repeats, insisting this was not the same team. Manning and other players asked teammates to lock up their rings. Championship mementoes were virtually banned from the locker room.
Yet with only a month left in the NFL season, the Colts find themselves right back where they started.
``I think when you go through the whole thing and win it, you have a little clearer idea of what it takes,'' Dungy said. ``But the whole playoff atmosphere is so much bigger than it was even 15 years ago. I think just being there four or five times before really helped us last year.''
And knowing what it takes to win it may help the Colts again.
 

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